Archive | August 2011

Steampunk PC

This is just brilliant: a steampunk hobbyist has documented how they built a modern computer in a Victorian-era casing.

If you don’t know what steampunk is, it’s imagining what modern technology might be like if built during the Victorian era, if not a bit earlier. As another example by one of my favourite TV personalities, Adam Savage of MythBusters, wondering what would bionic eyes have been like if they were around at the beginning of the 20th Century. Adam Savage's bionic eye

And something I’d like myself: a steampunk laptop!

Aren’t they brilliant?

Brand new supernova

The Beeb reports that a new supernova was spotted by astronomers at Oxford University, and it’s only 21 light years away (which is 9.461×10^12 km – still quite a distance at human scales).

A supernova, for those who don’t know, is a star that has exploded and is briefly more luminous than a galaxy (only for a few weeks or months). Over this brief lifetime, they can radiate more energy than the sun will over it’s entire lifetime. They can also be a prime source of elements heavier than oxygen because, like all stars, they undergo nuclear fusion. One may even have triggered the formation of our solar system.

The cult of free energy

After browsing through yet another post on the Web claiming that free energy or perpetual motion machines are possible, in spite of the fact that they violate the laws of thermodynamics, I’ve come to the conclusion that the nuts who believe in it are just like religious fundamentalists, especially those who believe in Idiotic Intelligent Design.

Both contradict some very well-established laws and theories*, neither have ANY evidence to back them up, and the proponents of both refuse to consider the fact that they are wrong. Both have also used filthy tricks – the creators of PM machines often sell the PLANS (so they can claim “You built it incorrectly”), and see the Dover trial for the IDiots. And finally, both rely on ignorance of physics and biology, respectively, to gain followers.

*The free energy nuts often say that the laws of thermodynamics “are just theories”, just like the IDiots say “Evolution is just a theory”. Wrong! In science, a theory has a mechanism and evidence to back it up. Laws, by comparison, are determined purely by experience, but a mechanism isn’t available (yet).

A “Diamond” Planet

From National Geographic, a planet as dense as diamond has been discovered. One of the comments on that article, as well as my not-terribly-high opinion of human nature, raise the possibility of harvesting it. Maybe this is what the new space race will bring.

Secular Europe Campaign

If anyone’s in London the week of the 17th of September, the Secular Europe Campaign has some events planned. Well worth supporting, I say!

Higgs boson might not have been found yet

The hints that the Higgs boson might be found have become fainter, which has raised the possibility that it might not exist. The evidence found so far is apparently 95% certain that it exists, but for it to be a scientific certainty, it needs to be 99.99994% certain; however, there is a possibility it was found but overlooked.

The Higgs boson is supposed to explain why any particle that has a mass does have a mass. Even if it doesn’t exist, it isn’t the end of the world. Along with the graviton, the particle that has been proposed to carry gravity, the Higgs boson is needed to complete the Standard Model of particle physics. With these two exceptions, the Standard Model has been quite successful. Perhaps an analogy can be drawn between it and Newton’s Law of Gravity: it’s technically incorrect for a physicist to use Newton’s Law instead of general relativity, but in non-extreme cases it gets the same result.

Whatever happens, the words “interesting times” come to mind.

What next for Libya?

The latest reports from Libya are that the rebels or National Transitional Council, whichever term you prefer, have entered Tripoli and at least one of Gaddafi’s sons (Saif al-Islam, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court) has been captured. However, this is by no means the end, if anyone asks me (and nobody did).

The first thing that comes to mind, as a layman, is how to guarantee as stable a transition as possible, and prevent any civil war breaking out while the rebuilding gets started. Another question that’s going to get kicked around is “Should a peacekeeping force be sent in?” I am not an expert, so I really have no idea about any of this.

The only thing that I really am certain of is that Churchill’s remark after the second battle of El Alamein:

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

is quite fitting.